On April 22, 2022, more than 50 high school students from as nearby as Northern New Jersey and as a far away as Indonesia traveled to the campus of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, for the Wharton Global High School Investment Competition Learning Day.
The next morning those same students – belonging to 10 teams of aspiring asset managers — would be competing against each other in the investment competition’s 2022 Global Finale, in hopes of becoming international investment-strategy champions (Check out the competition results HERE).
But this day, they came ready to network with fellow competitors, explore Wharton’s campus and learn business from the experts.
A session with Angela Duckworth, a Wharton and Penn psychology professor, provided some of the day’s deepest insights. Dr. Duckworth is founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit that advances scientific insights that help children – including teenagers — thrive. She is also author of the bestselling book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, a theme she addresses in her popular 2013 TED talk (see photo above for a Learning Day student showing off her book).
Dr. Duckworth’s research focuses in part on how to live a happier and more successful life. How does she reach those conclusions? By studying high achievers.
“I interview and study Nobel Prize winners and Olympic gold medalists and Grammy-award-winning musicians,” said Duckworth, during her 30-minute interactive discussion with students in Wharton’s Jon M. Huntsman Hall. “The common denominator I find as a psychologist is that they have this combination of passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” she added. “That’s what grit is. Passion for long-term goals is caring about something so much that even when you don’t have to be thinking about it, you’re thinking about it…The perseverance part goes with it. So, working very hard…and being resilient in the face of setbacks.”
The unifying thread throughout Dr. Duckworth’s work, whether she is studying the power of praise or how to embrace a growth mindset (believing you can improve your abilities), is science. During her Learning Day conversation, which touched on many different topics, she called on the research of New York University professor of psychology Gabriele Oettingen to outline her own process for making difficult tradeoff decisions.
“When you are facing choices like where to go to college, which extracurricular to pursue or what to major in, I will give you a four-step process that is the most scientifically established or evidence-based way of setting goals and making plans for them,” she noted. “The acronym is called WOOP.”
W: “First ask, ‘What is my Wish?’ For example, what do I want to say about my college career? Whatever comes to mind first, is fine. I want to make a lot of money. I want to go to medical school afterwards. Or I want to be proud of myself. Whatever it is…what is my wish for college?”
O: “The first O is Outcome. What is the outcome if this wish comes true? So, I want to go to medical school after college and the outcome will be that I will take care of people. The first O clarifies your priorities. If you state clearly what the outcome is if your wish comes true, you can see whether that’s a really big wish for you, or a trivial one.”
O: “The second O is the Obstacle that stands in the way of your wish. So, if you wanted to go to medical school, the main obstacle might be organic chemistry.”
P: “P is your Plan. You need a plan, which is your answer to the obstacle.” How will you overcome it?
Dr. Duckworth concluded: “When I have a really hard choice to make, or I’m not making the progress that I want or I’m feeling unhappy, I ask myself: What is my wish? What is the best outcome if this wish comes true? What is the obstacle that stands in the way? And that sets me up to make a plan to figure out what to do.”
And what if you don’t end up happy with your final decision? You can’t be afraid to make a change, advised Professor Duckworth, who champions experimentation that requires being wrong some of the time.
“You’re going to learn most of the things that you learn in life through messy, inefficient trial and error,” she observed. “The most successful people, including Nobel Laureate scientists and truly world-class athletes at the Olympic level, have historically in their lives done more sampling and exploration than people who are not as great. Give yourself some time to try out majors, try out activities, drop those activities (but avoid quitting things in the middle; set yourself up for a commitment that has a beginning and an end). The more sampling now will help you become successful later in life.”
The naivety and free-spiritedness of childhood are why children have sparkles in their eyes filled with the greatest ambitions. These ambitions dwindle for many children as they mature, experience difficulty in school, encounter obstacles in life, and get a gist of how competitive the world is. But for those high achievers at the top whose sparkles never faltered, how did they do it? Dr. Angela Duckworth, a Wharton and Penn psychology professor, found that all high achievers possess a common trait: GRIT.
Dr. Duckworth says that grit is a “passion for long-term goals is caring about something so much that even when you don’t have to be thinking about it, you’re thinking about it,” with resilience and perseverance following. Dr. Duckworth provided a four-step process to achieve grit: wish, outcome, obstacle, and plan, or WOOP. To live by the acronym WOOP, one must be adaptable, not afraid of making a change, put themselves out there, and do more sampling and exploration, learning from the losses. While I agree with Dr. Duckworth’s four steps to success, I think that another essential aspect to include is to happily soak in successful moments in the present, making sure that desirable outcomes are self-fulfilling. It is important to learn from losses, but it’s also important to embrace the wins.
When you’re passionate about something, you get hooked on the feeling of winning. The exhilarating feeling of standing on a stage at the awards ceremony, reading an article you published, crossing the banner at a finish line, or making the game-winning shot produces fulfilling adrenaline in a passionate person, accelerating them to strive for more greatness. The desire to regain that fulfilling feeling of success outweighs any despondent feelings of unsuccessful losses, producing high achievers.
I have recently experienced this fulfilling feeling of winning that made it worth it through the losses. In February, a newspaper in my town agreed to let me write articles for them, and I had multiple calls and communications with them. However, they stopped communicating with me after making plans, and I have not heard from them since. Naturally, I was sad and started doubting my writing abilities because I was excited about that opportunity. Fast forward to this June, I submitted an article to The Beatles Story, the world’s largest permanent museum telling the story of the lives and times of The Beatles. The article was recently published on their website and promoted to hundreds of thousands of followers on their social media sites. While stealing my dad’s banana pudding and eating the bread pudding at Black Bear Diner to celebrate my publication was fulfilling (to my stomach), the fulfillment and giddiness I felt after getting published by this honorable museum of one of my favorite bands were greater than eating delicious desserts, and also greater than the sadness at being “ghosted” by my town’s newspaper.
However, this exhilarating fulfillment also applies to my parents, as my parents, especially my Beatle-maniac dad, were very happy for me and emotional. As an aspiring corporate attorney, my summer consisted of mostly writing, writing, and, you guessed it, writing, like I am doing right now for this Comment & Win contest. However, due to my parent’s pride, they inserted a non-writing related event in my summer – a trip to Europe to visit the museum I was published in. My mom is someone that always books plane tickets and plans for trips ahead of time, but now we’re departing for London next week. So what’s the moral of the story? Grit can convince your parents to take you to England the following week. Just kidding. While that may have occurred in my situation, the real moral of the story is that grit can get you through low-spirited moments and bring you to bigger and better opportunities. I may have been sad at not getting published locally in February, but now I have an international publication from a museum dedicated to my favorite band. By following Dr. Duckworth’s WOOP process, I had sparkles in my eyes while saying “WOOP WOOP” from getting an article published in The Beatles Story.
The Power of Perseverance
It’s about drive, it’s about power
We stay hungry, we devour
Put in the work, put in the hours and take what’s ours (ahoo) sings, Dwanye the Rock Johnson as he motivates his listeners to be perseverent. After analyzing Duckworth’s “Grit” essay, she takes us into the field to visit cadets struggling through their first days at West Point (a special place where the awesome LBW program guides their students to explore ;D), teachers working in some of the toughest schools, and young finalists in the National Spelling Bee. Angela Lee Duckworth argues that perseverance and passion outweigh intelligence and talent– making her assertion remain accurate. Long-term goals rely on grit, especially with adversities that can be frightening.
Even the most talented individuals can be discouraged to achieve their long-term goals; however, those who challenge any adversity are likely to succeed. Ludwig van Beethoven was born into a family of musicians that were naturally gifted at composing music. He composed his first-ever piano piece at the age of 10. Admitted into a music school after, he built himself to be an amazing composer. However, Beethoven first noticed difficulties with his hearing decades later, around the age of 28. By the time he was 44 to 45, he was completely deaf and was unable to converse unless he passed written notes back and forth to his family. Although he was naturally talented, he faced the adversity of being deaf, making it substantially more difficult to compose music. Many people may lose hope of pursuing their passion — but not him. Beethoven was notorious for making adjustments and never settling with less, thus the process was not easy for him. He had an “inner ear” for music. With him, Beethoven composed the 9th symphony, which was his most profound work because it included a chorus and vocal soloist in the final movement. He was the first major composer to do this in a symphony. While he was deaf! If Beethoven had not tested his limits as a composer, his beloved music career would have ended devastatingly. Even though he was deaf, he persevered with the passion to create more elevated music that will sing in our history books forever.
Driven to win medals, gritting individuals must face learning from their mistakes with attention to improve their performance. Simone Biles overcame physical and mental obstacles which led her to lack practice, leaving her at a disadvantage in her 2018 World Championships. But that does not stop Simone Biles from achieving greatness. Notably, earlier that month, she competed at the US selection camp with a broken toe. Before the night of qualifying, Biles spent her time in the hospital due to kidney stones. To compete in the World Championships, she had to overcome her fear of failure and concentrate on correcting her mistakes in practice. With time, she developed the attribute “grit,” which gave her a tremendous will to win. With this approach, she overcame her fear of failure and concentrated on her mistakes so that she could overcome them. After the championships which caused her to confront her mistakes, she walked away with 6 medals. Her persistence and drive allowed her to focus on her goals, which she achieved. Facing a similar challenge, Nathan Chen, made many mistakes in the 2018 Olympics that resulted in a low score and his potential medal. “ I was scared,” Nathan Chen announced as he placed 5th. Fighting forward, he learned from his mistake in the 2018 Olympics and walked away with a gold medal in the 2022 Olympics. He gave an outstanding performance with no noticeable flaws, placing first. Simply told, Nathan Chan would not have won the gold medal if he had not paid attentive attention to his faults with determination.
Slow and steady wins the race! Success is like the tortoise in the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Even though individuals face disadvantages compared to others, perseverance and consistency win the race! Although intelligence and talented individuals are born skillful, it is grit that differentiates themselves from others who don’t achieve their goals. Fear and discouragement may easily control someone’s potential to accomplish greatness if they lack grit.
It is easy to have an envisioned future ahead, but hard to carry it out. It is easy to say something, but not follow through. In other words, it is simple to fall into the category of “all talk and no action”. That is why not everyone will reach the top of the hierarchical ladder. But, the key to the success of the few who do is opened up in this conversation with Angela Duckworth and her infamous TEDTalk that I came across not too long ago. Out of curiosity, I clicked on that very video in my YouTube recommended section, not expecting much out of it. My initial thoughts were that this would be another spinoff, another video that would not penetrate this shield of unproductivity level that I had put up at the moment. But, little was I to know how wrong I was.
In a poem, “Equipment”, by Edgar Guest, it conveys the idea of how everyone is set out in life born with the fundamental needs to find success. We all started off on the same note, each one of us, just like the greatest have. But, it is up to us to come to triumph and say the final words “I can”.
The distinction between the ones successful and you sitting behind your screen right now doing whatever it may be and not even taking the majority of steps toward what you want so badly is GRIT. GRIT is the belief that if you work hard and long enough, you will eventually arrive where you want to be. It is about setting a long-term goal and following through on the commitment. Even when you get knocked the wind out of you, standing up from where you fell will do much in the long run. On the surface, it may sound intuitive and a standard persistence proverb, but really it is much more than just that.
Duckworth referenced the work of Carol Dweck from Stanford University of not being afraid of failure and realizing that failure is only temporary. In his study, Dr. Dweck found that just a subtle difference in the way a kid is praised makes such an impact. Children who have been recognized for their intellect picked an easier option because they do not want to do anything to jeopardize the way that they are already perceived. They want to maintain that image and enter this fixed mindset, deciding to rather play it safe. Whereas, the kids who were commended for their effort chose the harder test because they know that if they don’t take on this challenge and adhere to it, they would not grow as individuals. Just sitting back as a reaction to adversity and setbacks will not get you anywhere in life. At the end of the day, it was not IQ, social intelligence, familial background advantage, or anything else, but rather GRIT that accounts for success.
With a number of bright minds out there, it is important that this concept of GRIT gets its point across to us, or else it comes at a significant cost as it hampers an individual’s ultimate potential or the society that may thrive off of their achievements.
It was always said that people should explore before deciding, and this is indeed important. One may only find their true interest after knowing how it worked. That is, when we rashly come to the conclusion that we love or hate something, we usually don’t know much about it. If we do, we would say: “I love it, but it is not the choice for me”,
I’ve participated in numerous lectures and learned two things from them. First, the time before pro-graduate is the always time for you to try things out and find what you like. Second, you can only do things well when you have a passion for doing them, that is “caring about something so much that even when you don’t have to be thinking about it, you’re thinking about it”.
To me, only if one finds his/her passion in something, can one do it well and do it comfortably. Carefully considering plans and outcomes are undeniably crucial, but one can barely get a thing done efficiently without finding any passion in them.
I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Duckworth at the WGHS Learning Day this year. Before I arrived at Wharton, I knew that Dr. Duckworth was a TED speaker, UPenn professor, and also the author of the bestselling book GRIT, which my chemistry teacher proudly displayed on her whiteboard for all to see. However, there’s something different between watching a recording of someone talking and hearing them talk and being able to interact with them.
The half-hour that Dr. Duckworth was speaking was a monumental learning opportunity for everyone in the room. From advice on passion and perseverance to sharing her theories on what makes the greatest leaders and achievers tick, it was an amazing chance to pick the brain of one of Penn’s greatest professors. During this time, I had the chance to ask one of the questions that were always on my mind: How do you rationalize and make tradeoffs, and what steps do you take along the way to achieve those?
The answer was a four-step process called WOOP, which focused on narrowing down our longer term goals into short-term achievables for a future vision. WOOP focused on taking our wishes to create a practical desired outcome and using those to find what we would need to overcome and how we would overcome it. In essence, WOOP is a planner that is able to create tangible goals and milestones for a challenge or concept that might seem daunting or unachievable at first.
Past WOOP, one of the many pieces of advice that stuck out to me was to “be a paramecium”. In that room, we had first dibs on hearing a sample of her commencement address for the Penn Classes of 2020 and 2021. The point Dr. Duckworth made was how a paramecium embodies the trial and error with life; when things are alright, the paramecium goes with the flow. When things aren’t going as planned, it pivots in a different direction. A paramecium will encounter setbacks in the same way a person would, but both are able to endure and move forward.
Throughout the talk, all of the pieces of advice tied together into exploring, improving, and adapting. From being willing to take the next step or trying out something new, Dr. Duckworth emphasized the importance of good habits such as committing to something new. When learning, she shared with us the importance of quality training, with intention, concentration, and feedback. To even learn in the first place, you have to make a commitment for a set amount of time; don’t drop something during the season, see and commit to it all the way to the end to minimize your regrets.
These ideas have resonated with me throughout my life. When trying a new thing and making a commitment to trying something new, I’ve found that the ones I regret the most are the ones I dropped after a short setback, such as when learning the piano for the first time. The ones that I am most proud of are the ones where I endured and changed course. During the competition itself, my team and I had to pivot our strategy multiple times throughout the trading window to find an adaptable strategy that was able to meet our targets and needs. Committing to seeing our portfolio through the entire trading period helped us regroup, pivot, and adapt our strategy into something that worked.
There are so many things I learned that day that I can’t wait to implement. At the top of my list is finally doing some google searches, as the all-knowing Google contains the answers to all your pressing questions. That is, if you know where to search. Thank you so much to the Wharton Global Youth Program and competition organizers for the phenomenal learning day!
We always hear that do the which you are interested in. But never told how to find the interest because we want to do many things but due to limited duration have to choose one or two. The work which makes us happy and satisfied and gives us new opportunities to fly is the right work for us.
In early 2021, after months of struggling with health issues and being unable to attend school while I managed my symptoms, I was lost and I didn’t had any dreams nor expectations for the future. I sat at home every day and fell behind in my studies. As the day approached for me to return to school, I began to wonder how my life could be different. I sat down in front of the mirror the day before and asked myself: What is my true wish for the future? What kind of life do I want to go for?
While I didn’t know it at the time, I was about to implement Dr. Duckworth’s Wish-Outcome-Obstacle-Plan strategy, which is known as “the most scientifically established or evidence-based way of setting goals and making plans.” A year after implementing this process, even though I’m still not as “successful” as those award-winning musicians or Olympic gold medalists, I can definitely say that I feel much happier and more self-fulfilled than I was before.
I’ve always been good at math and science, and for years my parents and teachers had encouraged me to go into computer science or medicine, or equally high paying careers that equate to “success” by social norms. To be honest, I have no idea what computer science or medicine really involves, and I didn’t had that much of an interest in math and sciences as I grew older either. I still had concentrated my classes around computer science, feeling that I held a key to successes. However, there’s one thing that I hadn’t thought about: what does it mean for me to actually have a successful and happy life?
During my three months at home, I started to consider all those questions. That is when I realized that my true passion is not doing computer science or medicine, or …it’s art. I started making picture books in 9th grade, and I began to dream about illustrating children’s books, but I hid that little wish in the deepest corner of my heart to a point that I almost forgot it myself. Thinking about this, I began to envision my “outcome”: I want to study art in college, become an artist or a children’s book illustrator, and use creativity to bring good to this world.
Like the third step in Dr. Duckworth’s process, I also imagined the obstacles in front of me and thought about answers to them. I have never talked to anyone about my passion for art, nor have I taken any proper art training in my whole life. Do I really have a talent in visual arts? Will my family accept my sudden change in plans for college? I had so many questions, but I knew I needed a goal to keep myself going. Even though that I’m not super passionate about schedules or timetables, I still set plans for myself to work hard in art and other academic areas to prove to myself and to my family that I can to balance these two areas of study and have the ability to pursue my dream in art.
My return to school, however, was rough. As I continued to struggle with my health and to keep myself motivated, there was a sudden drop in my grades. Even three months later, I my school attendance was sporadic. My poor academic performance made it difficult for my family to accept my dreams in art. I couldn’t meet the expectations from myself and my parents, and I was ready to give up. My wish of wanting to work hard in both areas was being crushed by the reality of my health conditions.
However, a new realization set me on another course. I had been too constrained by one big goal that was far away, and I had never set plans for each of step in front of me. Meanwhile, I also didn’t consider what to do when I’m not making the progress that I want. So I started going to classes again, but this time I canceled all expectations for myself. I focused on every little achievement and celebrated them, such as drawing for six hours straight or getting a good score on a small test, and I always told myself that each accomplishment was a small contribution to my dream of the future.
By the end of the school year, my grades had improved significantly. I completed several art classes and spent all of my breaks preparing my art portfolio. There are definitely a lot of “messy, inefficient trial and errors” in between, but whenever I didn’t get the results I wanted, I tried my best to effectively reflect on what went wrong and make adjustments. Similar to Dr. Duckworth’s “sampling and exploration”, I also tried a lot of activities during this year, and I found that I have a passion for combining art and technology, too.
It was kind of a happy ending: my parents are pleased that I’m managing my academics well and are warming up to the idea of my studying an art-related major. It is worth noting that Dr. Duckworth never defines “success,” and this is something I’m still figuring out what it means myself, yet one thing is clear in my mind: the answer to this question is different for everyone, and it will never be limited to wealth, reputation, career, and social status. A self-fulfilled, happy artist can have an equally, or even more successful life than a programmer or doctor.
The competitive rush filled me with adrenaline. The atmosphere was tense as my family and I competed against each other to finish our set patterns of tiles. Pong! Chi! Ah! I learned Mahjong, a traditional Chinese game, at the age of seven. Reflecting on the memories I’ve made on the 31×31 table, I’ve uncovered lessons that have proven pivotal beyond my weekly family game nights.
In mahjong, my arms move quickly as I try to match my tiles with sets of threes. There is no time to get caught up in errors; only the drive to make my next attempt the best it can be. In much the same way, looking ahead at the possibilities rather than looking back at my mistakes has been instrumental in my efforts to create a successful non-profit startup creating and selling statement rings, the proceeds of which are donated to the hope.drugfree foundation. In one instance, I’d initially planned to release our first round of product in April, but due to miscommunication with my partner, who’d promoted an earlier release date, we ended up scrambling to ensure that our buyers received the rings when they were promised. Although I could have easily focused on my frustration, I took this experience as an opportunity to embrace the importance of communication. Recovering form our errors as a team, my partner and I frequently check in with each other in advance of every product release, and our recent releases have gone much more smoothly.
Another crucial element of success in mahjong is ensuring that my opponents never know what my next move will be: my intuition never fears risks, thus making my game unpredictable. Similarly, I’ve sought to embrace that intuition as I participate in stock competitions through the Youth Investors Stock Club of America. Before the pandemic, I would choose stocks by investigating p/e ratios, the company’s plans, and stock trends. In January 2020, I distinctly remember feeling uneasy when I considered the events sweeping the nation. However, the data seemed normal, and I forged ahead. Just a couple of months later, the stock market crashed when the pandemic hit, pushing me to adapt my strategies quickly so that I could rebound from my losses. Now when choosing stocks, I take a more holistic approach, broadening my research to include current developments in the social climate, politics, and economics, which allows me to hone in on the stocks with the greatest potential. From that stressful experience, I found that trusting myself more than the black and white words and numbers in news articles will lead me to success.
Finally, mahjong has taught me that every mistake, like giving a valuable tile away happens frequently, can be reframed into an opportunity for advancement. Before winning a business/ management competition at the Global Youth Investors of America club, each team was given a theoretical situation about a failing business. Our team was notorious for having long debates before we make a single desicion. Given this situation, my team and I had to act fast to recover from this difficult condition of this business and to move toward our goal. No matter how bad a scenario may be, there will always be a light at the end of a tunnel if you push through with grit.
Back in my family game room, jumping up and down and slamming my tiles down for everybody to see, my patterned sets are complete and I emerge with another victory under my belt. To me, Mahjong is not just a game, but a lifestyle. Taking these lessons to heart has aided my growth not only as a fierce mahjong competitor, but also as a strategic risk-taker.
Dr. Duckworth noted that “you learn in life through messy, inefficient trial and error.” It is easy to agree with this. Falling off a bike doesn’t necessarily mean you are incapable of biking; rather, it incentivizes you to practice and inevitably succeed. Coming from a Korean-American family living in an academically competitive environment, I can attest to the veracity of the claim as I have experienced my fair share of struggles and failures throughout my life.
The weeks, and sometimes months, leading up to an important test should entail the right amount of, if not excessive, study time. Unfortunately, having still the mindset of a middle schooler at the start of my freshman year in high school, I failed to properly prepare for the first unit test in Algebra II. Instead of reading over the notes taken in class and solving practice problems, I turned to chatting on Discord and playing FIFA, clearly disdainful and blinded by easily earned grades in the past. I could not have been any more incorrect. As the day drew nearer, I grew increasingly confident that I would perform well, even believing I may outperform others in my class. It seemed my freshman year was truly going to be light and breezy. In stark contrast, the day of the exam finally came around. I walked into the last class of the day with overt confidence. As the teacher walked between the rows of desks, passing out the test paper, I felt my confidence diminish. The final punch came when the test packet was dropped onto my desk and the first problem came into sight.
As Dr. Duckworth also stated when talking about grit, one must “[be] resilient in the face of setbacks.” Some days following the exam, my teacher announced she had completed grading the tests. The very first item on the announcement was that nobody in the class performed to her expectations. Naturally, the first thought that came to my mind was that I should have asked my mom to pack more lunch as it was very likely I would not be eating dinner. The second was regret. I regretted my refusal to review my notes; my denial of practicing problems on the basis that I was already good enough. I believe that from that regret sprouts passion, which is perhaps another of the “grit” that Dr. Duckworth describes.
That, subsequently, leads to an increased chance of success. From my failure, I was able to learn what I must do to ensure higher results on upcoming exams.
If experiences of failure are the steps that lead up to success, then it is arguably beneficial to experience a lot of it. So, treat life as a buffet of opportunities. Sample various different items because “the more sampling now will help you become successful later in life,” as Dr. Duckworth rightfully asserts. Trying something out and failing is far better than living in regret. Therefore, if there is anything you desire to do, do it without the fear of failure. I’ve learned not to treat everything as a straightaway to success but as an opportunity to learn.
A couple of weeks ago, I read a book by Steven Kotler called “The Art of Impossible” about how elite performers such as world-class athletes, CEOs of large companies, and famous artists can be who they are. In one of the chapters, Dr. Duckworth was mentioned when Kotler explained how grit ties into their secrets. Seeing her name pop up in this article was a pleasant surprise.
A comment that particularly stood out to me was “The common denominator I find as a psychologist is that they have this combination of passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.” This claim is something that I have experienced firsthand through my share of struggle and improvement.
The first club I joined in high school was Model UN, a place where people acted as delegates for countries or groups and debated to improve what they represented. I had a deathly fear of public speaking and I thought that it was a good idea to join this club to get rid of that fear. I believed that if I was able to focus on something I was afraid of, I would improve. When the first conference came up, I was ready (or at least I felt I was ready). I had my notes, my pre-made opening speech, and anything else that was necessary. Yet why was I unable to deliver my speech when my name was called? Why was I not able to utter a single proper sentence? Why did I sit back down after failing to complete my speech?
This was the same for every conference I participated in for the next two years. I was sure I had the passion, the “caring about something so much that even when you don’t have to be thinking about it”. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of an audience or stutter through a speech. So why did I keep doing it? The answer was perseverance, the second component of the definition of grit given by Dr. Duckworth and Kotler. I never practiced my speeches, just brazenly going through them only when I had conferences. I never practiced anything in general, procrastinating my way through much of school. I didn’t believe that I could improve so I never practiced and just went to conferences for the sake of fulfilling the minimum attendance.
As I moved on to my junior year, I realized that nothing would ever change if I didn’t trust myself to improve. As the next conference came up, I focused less on research (the part I was good at) but rather on my speaking skills. In the days before, I’d prepare my opening speech by talking to a mirror, to my parents, to my friends, to anyone willing to listen. Although I stumbled over a few words, I managed to finish the opening speech. As I finished up, my heart seemed to pump out of my chest and I felt the sweat slide down my forehead. It’s exhilarating to put all your effort into something that pays off in the end. I kept up my momentum throughout the entire conference and even though I didn’t win any accolades, I left with a learning experience (an extreme cliche but it’s true). In my next two conferences, I put my all into trying to win. I analyzed the speaking patterns of other delegates and whether they would be a threat. If they were, I’d use my position’s power to sabotage their work or assassinate them (only applicable in the crisis conferences where it’s a little less formal). I’d speak almost every turn to try and prove a point or bring allies to my side. It was a formidable battle every time but I ended with some victories: Outstanding Delegate at Vanderbilt MUN and Outstanding Delegate at Lab MUN (the former a college conference and the latter a high school conference).
“Being resilient in the face of setbacks.” That is something that I’m striving to do. When something is pushing you down, it’s hard to come back up. But when you feel the thrill, the satisfaction coursing through you after you finish whatever task/competition/assignment you need to do, it becomes natural to try and feel that sensation over and over again. That’s where passion and perseverance come together and create grit, something that I want to feel every time. Thank you, Dr. Duckworth and Wharton for coming together to create this impactful article!
We all have fears, ancient primordial fears so deeply rooted that it can only be called instinct. From thousands of years of evolution, we’ve developed them as a necessity.
Lions? Nah, they’re just big cats. Snakes? Just wriggling sticks. But the waiting room in a dentist’s office? Now that’s what sparks flight or fight more than anything else.
Dentist offices are not malevolent creatures. They can smell fear and that fear only fills them with a sadistic glee. They secrete this calming sterile smell that only amplifies the wrongness of the situation. The gentle screech of drills drone on in the background, taunting you as all you can do is just wait. Waiting until inevitably, you’re in the same position trembling before the drills.
This fear is a rather simple one: the fear of failure and the anxiety of anticipation.
We’ve all been scared to do something, whether big or small, the ever present outcome of failure is always there. Yet, it’s so much more rewarding to do a task that has a large risk. The best feeling is to know that you could’ve gotten a concussion or get in trouble for certain things you’ve said, but you didn’t.
I’m on the track team for my school. I like jumping. Yet ironically, I don’t enjoy long jumps that much, which is my main event. Long jumping is a blind leap, an effort to go as far as possible with no consideration of safety, hence the sand pit. It’s a fool’s gamble, little consideration is put into the aftermath. A normal jump to hard concrete is so much more impactful than to sand. Obviously, but figuratively it’s a lot less boring to say the least. There’s no planning for a long jump, just run, jump and don’t step over the line. (and also you can’t front flip, but I doubt anyone can do that properly).
Oops, you don’t land properly, well the sand will cushion the fall. I’ve jumped with both my knees scraped from doing not very smart things, and the punishment wasn’t even that bad. All it did was hurt after I landed on my knees. There’s no obstacle, one of the core components of “woop”. All your left with is “wop”, and they’re pretty simple too. Wish, jump further. Outcome, a rush of dopamine and maybe a medal. Obstacles are nonexistent, unless you count air drag and your body is not being good enough. Plan is the simplest out of it all, run to the white line and jump.
Now, jumping around on concrete adds a new abstract and important aspect: you’re going to skin yourself if you don’t stick the landing. Yet from that arises so much more planning and thinking. You’re not just going to carelessly leap to a safety net, because life isn’t always like that.
Risks are what spices up certain tasks, so the fear of failing is just an incentive.